The first time Amere Singh Dhaliwal raped “Girl A”, she was 13 or 14 years old. Along with two other British Asian men, he approached her and her friends at a bus station in Huddersfield and offered them alcohol.
Girl A cannot remember which of the men she lost her virginity to, weeks later, but she does remember that when Dhaliwal raped her, he told his girlfriend and others that she had been the sexual aggressor. His girlfriend and her friends then beat up Girl A, breaking her nose. He passed her round his friends, who would take girls up to the moors and threaten to leave them there.
Girl A had an abortion, and after getting pregnant again, the gang dropped her. She suspects that, at 17, she was too old for them.
You cannot begin to understand a crime until you hear the fine details of it. The grit and the texture; its particular signature. There are many features of the Huddersfield grooming trial – which ended on 19 October with the convictions of 20 men for attacks on 15 girls – that demand careful consideration. The way that many of the men worked in the informal, night-time economy, at a taxi firm. The way they used Asian girls to approach the houses of the white girls, asking them to come out for the evening. The way that violence was meted out early on (as it was to Girl A) so that the threat always hung over the victims – a classic form of abusive control.
The reason I know the details above is because of the reporting of Stephanie Finnegan, who covers Leeds Crown Court for the Huddersfield Examiner. She was there when the gang were jailed for 221 years. “The ringleader has been jailed for LIFE with a minimum of 18 years,” she tweeted. “Or as I like to think of it, at least an entire childhood.”
I want to give credit to Finnegan because court reporting in Britain has been hollowed out. Forty local papers shut in 2017 alone, according to Press Gazette. The legal system itself is creaking, thanks to years of cuts – spending on legal aid has shrunk by £1bn in five years. Even in high-profile cases there has been no legal aid. The parents of Charlie Gard, a child whose doctors recommended the withdrawal of medical treatment against the family’s wishes, did not receive it. Together, our courts and our press should make sure that justice is not only done, but seen to be done. Yet the economic conditions in which both are operating make that harder.
The vacuum is being filled by agitators such as Tommy Robinson. His arrest for filming on the steps of the court – and encouraging his Facebook followers to share the video – is a reflection of a system where justice is not being seen to be done. Yes, he exploited the echo-chamber of the American alt-right, failing to mention that Britain has strong laws on court reporting. But Robinson was aided in building his narrative by the lack of everyday reports on such grooming cases. There is little attention paid to child sex abuse unless it is “newsworthy”. (That’s code for “unless the perpetrators are Asian or Muslim”, in case you’re wondering.) “A few weeks after the Rochdale case, we dealt with a case of ten white men in North Yorkshire who had been abusing young girls, and they were all convicted and they got long sentences,” Nazir Afzal, the prosecutor of the Rochdale gang, said in 2014. “It didn’t get the level of coverage.”
That is what the case of Charlie Gard has in common with the Huddersfield grooming trial. In both, a kernel of truth was nurtured by online conspiracy theorists, with poisonous results. Charlie’s parents felt that they were denied access to justice by the British courts – and their grievance was jumped on by the American pro-life movement, which was intent on proving that socialised healthcare, also known as the NHS, inevitably leads to “death sentences”.
In the Huddersfield case, yes, there is a racial element. It does matter that the defendants were British Asians, because they all were. All 20 men also knew each other, had access to cars and cash through the night-time economy, and they shared an ideology that allowed them to treat other people – women – as things.
Ah, comes the snap answer. You mean Islam? Too glib. The ringleader, Amere Singh Dhaliwa was a Sikh and the other perpetrators were hardly model Muslims: remember, their first offer was to get the girls to come drinking with them. They were, however, guilty of racially charged misogyny – a shared excuse that white girls were “slags”. (That said, it’s worth noting that one of the Huddersfield victims, as with other gangs, was Asian.)
Successive trials have shown us that child sex abuse exists among every community and ethnicity in Britain. The TV presenter Rolf Harris. The football coach Barry Bennell. The publicist Max Clifford. Father Paul Moore, a Catholic priest from Ayrshire jailed earlier this year.
Think of it like a virus that causes different symptoms in different patients, as each type of perpetrator finds their own rationale for their actions – and the same structures of power and prejudice prevent their victims being believed. In Bristol, British-Somali men told girls it was their “culture and tradition” to share sexual partners. In Oxford, eight men, mostly of Pakistani descent, alternately plied girls with drink and drugs, then threatened them with violence. In Newcastle, a report found, police considered “deterrent punishments” – for the victims, to try to stop them going back to their abusers. In Peterborough, where the ringleader was of Roma descent, a teenage victim was targeted because she had learning disabilities.
Nothing will get Girl A her childhood back. But we can make sure that the likes of Tommy Robinson don’t get to define the debate on child sex abuse. That’s why justice has to be done, and seen to be done.
Three members of a Rochdale grooming gang face possible deportation to Pakistan after court of appeal judges upheld a decision to strip them of their British citizenship.
Abdul Aziz, Adil Khan and Qari Abdul Rauf were among nine men jailed in May 2012 for their part in a grooming ring which plied vulnerable girls with drink and drugs so they could “pass them around” for sex.
The court heard that some of the victims, who were aged in their early teens, were raped and physically assaulted and some were forced to have sex with “several men in a day, several times a week”.
Following their conviction, Aziz, Khan and Rauf were informed by the Home Office in 2015 that they would be stripped of their British citizenship, after which the home secretary would consider deporting them to Pakistan.
They were told: “British citizenship is a privilege that confers particular entitlements and benefits, including the right to a British passport and the right to vote in general elections.
“It is not in the public interest that individuals who engage in serious and/or organised crime, which constitutes a flagrant abuse of British values, enjoy those entitlements and benefits.”
The men challenged the decision at the first tier tribunal (FTT), arguing that removing their citizenship would breach their right to a family life under the European convention on human rights, as they have children living in the UK.
The FTT ruled against the men, concluding that “depriving the appellant of his British citizenship would not in itself prevent him continuing his relationship with his family”.
The upper tribunal also rejected the men’s appeal, arguing that the serious nature of their crimes meant it was reasonable for the home secretary to view the removal of their citizenship as “conducive to the public good”.
The men then took their case to the court of appeal and represented themselves before three senior judges at a hearing in July. Adil Khan argued that he was innocent of any crime, something the judges dismissed.
In a ruling on Wednesday, Lord Justice Sales said: “Given the extremely serious nature of the offending by each appellant, there is no good ground for calling that conclusion into question. There was no error of law by the FTT.”
All three men, from Rochdale, were found guilty of conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with children under the age of 16 and trafficking for sexual exploitation following a trial at Liverpool crown court.
Aziz, who was one of the ringleaders of the grooming gang and referred to by some of the others as The Master, was jailed for nine years.
Married father of five Rauf was jailed for six years and Khan for eight years.
Outlining their offending, Sales said: “The sentencing judge described how in some cases the girls were raped callously, viciously and violently; and in some cases they were driven round Rochdale and Oldham to be made to have sex with paying customers.
“All the men treated the girls as though they were worthless and beyond all respect. They were motivated by lust and greed.”
Under the British Nationality Act 1981, the home secretary has the power to strip an individual of their British citizenship – as long as it would not leave them stateless – if it is seen as “conducive to the public good” or they obtained their British citizenship fraudulently.
Depriving a person of citizenship for the public good can be done on the grounds of “involvement in terrorism, espionage, serious organised crime, war crimes or unacceptable behaviours”.
Grooming gangs who preyed on 700 women and girls in north-east England acted with “arrogant persistence” after police were seen to be punishing victims for their situation, a serious case review has found.
The report from the retired barrister David Spicer into the response by authorities in Newcastle to child sexual exploitation concluded that victims received effective protection after the launch of a Northumbria police investigation in January 2014. Before that, however, the force’s actions lacked consistency and had little impact, it said.
Seventeen men and one woman were jailed last year for being part of a network that plied 22 women and girls aged 13-25 with drink and drugs before sexually assaulting them between 2011 and 2014.
The trials were the result of the Northumbria police investigation Operation Shelter, part of the larger Operation Sanctuary, the force’s investigation into the sexual exploitation of vulnerable children and adults. The report said Sanctuary had identified 700 victims in the force’s area. Perpetrators have received a total of 429 years and three months in prison as part of the operation.
Addressing the response from authorities before 2014, the report said perpetrators were not consistently investigated or interviewed. “Historical information was not routinely accessed and incidents were treated as separate occurrences with no strategy to pull information together to improve understanding of the whole picture,” it said.
“While perpetrators were not punished or disrupted, attempts to persuade victims to change behaviours and not return to the abusers led to consideration of deterrent punishments of victims for being drunk and disorderly or for making false allegations when accounts were changed. Some victims were placed in secure accommodation.
“This sent an unhelpful message to perpetrators. They were unlikely to be prosecuted or prevented from continuing to abuse, encouraging an arrogant persistence. It also had a significant impact on victims who learnt that nothing would be done against perpetrators.”
The report highlighted a stark contrast between the approach taken before and after early 2014, when a Northumbria police investigation was first launched, but it stressed that many of the reasons identified for lack of action in reviews in other cities – including ignoring whistleblowers, members of the public or families, lack of compassion or empathy, misplaced concerns about political correctness and fears of allegations of racism – did not occur in Newcastle.
It did, however, add: “Practitioners did feel that early responses had the appearance of blaming the victims for their behaviour and allocating them responsibility for making bad choices.”
The report detailed victims’ accounts of sexual abuse after being drugged. “I never had sex when I was sober,” one victim told Spicer. “I wanted to leave. I was given drink. I kept saying no and fighting them off. I was very tired and fell asleep. When I woke, I had been raped.”
“I didn’t think what was happening was wrong,” said another. “I thought they were my friends. They bought me drink and drugs. I thought it was OK because of my family. Then it became more sinister. Different. There were parties with men a lot older: 30-40, when previously 20-21.”
“You often get them late afternoon on a Friday. If somebody doesn’t want to go home, that’s when you get these conversations,” says Alison Hamnett, director of operations across the north for Brook. They may start with asking for free condoms, but eventually the real story emerges: sexual exploitation, abusive relationships, precarious lives. Girls who don’t even feel entitled to refuse sex, let alone insist on protecting themselves.
Some are guarded. “Particularly if they are being groomed, they will have the answers to the questions down pat,” says Hamnett. “But the receptionist will say she saw a car outside drop them off – and the same car is coming with lots of young girls …” Posters hanging in the waiting room of the Manchester clinic where we meet explain the difference between exploitative and loving relationships: no, it’s not OK if he offers a roof over your head and expects sex in return.
The Burnley, Blackburn and Oldham clinics tend to see more grooming-gang victims, says Hamnett. In Liverpool, she found them dealing with a young homeless man, released from prison, who had been having sex in broad daylight in a car park while intoxicated. Manchester saw a young Muslim girl who was being radicalised. The checklist used with clients ranges from female genital mutilation to mental health issues. “We had a young woman of about 17, very intelligent, got all her A-levels and went to university,” says Hamnett. “She was bipolar and, when she was on her meds, she was great. When she wasn’t, she’d sell herself for sex.” The clinic helped her until she was too old to use its service, which is restricted to under-19s. They don’t know where she is now.
Brook’s expertise is in this area – where sexuality, deep-seated social problems and mental health issues collide – and is, says Hallgarten, what makes them “very good value for money”, as identifying the root cause of sexual risk-taking offers more chance of changing it.
But specialist clinics for vulnerable young people such as these are increasingly merging with more general services to save money. There is a push, says Hamnett, towards using GPs instead for contraception. That may work for young people with happy sex lives, but there is a reason appointments here last for up to 40 minutes, not the 10 minutes a busy GP might offer. “I feel as if we’re almost waiting a few years down the line for teenage pregnancies to go up,” she says ruefully. It is this sense of a clock being turned back that worries many.
The BBC has managed to report on this better (although I still had to change the headline from ‘child sex’ to ‘child sexual exploitation’):
Eighteen people have been convicted of abusing girls in Newcastle who were plied with alcohol and drugs before being forced to have sex.
The vulnerable victims, some as young as 14, were exploited by a “cynical organisation”, a court heard.
The 17 men and one woman were convicted of rape, supplying drugs and conspiracy to incite prostitution.
Over the course of four trials, 20 young women gave evidence covering a period from 2011 to 2014.
These trials involved 26 defendants, who were mostly Asian, facing a total of more than 100 charges and 22 victims.
Those prosecuted were from the Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish communities and mainly British-born, with most living in the West End of Newcastle.
Of the 26, three people have been jailed. The rest will be sentenced next month.
Although many of the defendants were charged with conspiracy to incite prostitution for gain, there is no suggestion that any of the victims were sex workers.
It’s disgusting. It implies that there is a separate class of underage girls and vulnerable women who are unexploitable, because they are ‘sex workers’. It implies that some women and girls can be complicit in their own exploitation, that if any of those women and girls laid claim to a certain ‘identity’ (or had that ‘identity’ applied to them, as happened in Rochdale), then they wouldn’t have been victims of exploitation.
It is also implying that there is a separate realm of ‘sex work’ which has no connection to paedophilia, grooming, exploitation and forced prostitution.
I will be emailing the editor (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the journalist (email@example.com), not that it ever does any good. Frances Perraudin is also on twitter (@fperraudin) if any reader of this blog would like to let her know that she is throwing vulnerable women and girls under the bus.
When Sageer Hussain and seven other men from Rotherham were sentenced to prison, the woman they had raped and sexually abused as a teenager was determined to be in the public gallery.
Emma Jackson (not her real name) had given evidence behind a screen over three painful days in the witness box at Sheffield crown court. But on Friday she was ready to face her abusers when the judge jailed them.
“I want to see their eyes when they get their sentences,” said Jackson, who was branded a “white slag” by her abusers, seven of whom are of British Pakistani origin. “I’ve been living with what they did to me for the last 13 years. Now they will know what it’s like to suffer.”
Jackson is now 27 and the mother of a young son. She was 13 and 14 when Hussain used drugs and alcohol to groom her for sex. He raped her behind a branch of Boots in Rotherham and at other locations around the South Yorkshire town, before passing her on to one of his brothers, Basharat, two of his cousins and various friends.
She reported her abusers at the time, having saved all the clothes she was raped in as evidence. The police lost them. Social workers closed her file because she came from a supportive family in a middle-class area. She once claimed a detective told her: “We just think it is little white slappers running around with Asians.” At school other pupils branded her a “Paki shagger”.
Jackson thinks the ethnicity of her abusers is relevant. “I know that there are Asian girls who have been exploited,” she said, “but I never saw my abusers with any Pakistani girls. It was always white girls. There is a pattern there that you can’t ignore and it is something we need to tackle.”
Jackson’s parents begged for help from their local MP, Kevin Barron; the then home secretary, David Blunkett; and the children’s commissioner, the court was told. But her abusers continued to swagger around Rotherham, threatening her family with violence, to the point that the Jacksons briefly moved abroad to try to start a new life.
The unanimous guilty verdicts delivered last month came as a tremendous relief, but also brought frustration. “I just couldn’t quite believe it. I felt vindicated. Yet when the verdicts came in, it proved to me that justice could have been done 13 years ago. That could have saved me a lot of heartache.”
Now a campaigner against child sexual exploitation, Jackson wants an official apology from South Yorkshire police. Though she praises the officers who brought her case to court, she would like a letter acknowledging that the force failed her as a teenager. “It would mean a lot to me to receive an official apology,” she said.
Six years before the court case, Jackson wrote a book, Exploited, about her experiences, and had given evidence to the home affairs select committee. When the prominent social worker Alexis Jay published her report on sexual exploitation in Rotherham, saying at least 1,400 children had been abused in the town over a 16-year period, Jackson went public to say she was one of them.
But nothing could quite prepare her for the ordeal of giving evidence. Walking into court on the first day, she couldn’t see Hussain but immediately caught a whiff of his aftershave from behind the screen. Now 30, he was wearing the same brand as he had in his teenage years. “His smell was a big thing for me. It made me feel a bit sick,” she said.
Jackson was infuriated at her cross-examination in the witness box. “The barristers just dragged everything up. It was a load of old crap. I was warned in advance that it wasn’t personal and the barristers were just doing their jobs, but it felt personal. It was quite maddening.
“It’s not a nice experience because they literally rip you to pieces. They try to trip you up; it’s as though they try and manipulate your words. To me it seems that it’s the victim who is the one who is put through the mill. That makes me quite angry.”
With her abusers now in jail for the foreseeable future, Jackson plans to move on with her life. She is catching up on the education she missed out on as a teenager and plans to go to university next year to study social work. But she will never be able to forget what happened to her.
“They took my education – that has set me back. It’s affected my relationships because I can’t fully trust people. I have mental health issues and suffer a lot from depression. But it’s not just my mental health that has been affected: my immune system is weak too. I pick up bugs really easily and have had glandular fever and shingles. It’s affected my life massively.”
Eight members of a Rotherham grooming ring have been jailed for between five and 19 years for sexually exploiting and causing “immeasurable and far-reaching harm” to a teenage girl.
The eight men had been found guilty of 19 charges, including rape, indecent assault and false imprisonment of girls as young as 13 between 1999 and 2003.
A Sheffield crown court trial, which ended in October, heard how the men “sexually degraded” their victims, subjecting them “to acts of a degrading and violent nature”.
The men jailed on Friday were Sageer Hussain, 30; Mohammed Whied, 32; Ishtiaq Khaliq, 33; Waleed Ali, 34; Asif Ali, 30; Masoued Malik, 32; Basharat Hussain, 40; and Naeem Rafiq, 33.
The judge, Sarah Wright, said they had caused “severe psychological harm” to their three victims.
The main complainant, now 27 and a campaigner against child sexual exploitation, told the Guardian she felt vindicated after the men were convicted.
“I just couldn’t quite believe it. I felt vindicated. Yet when the verdicts came in, it proved to me that justice could have been done 13 years ago. That could have saved me a lot of heartache,” she said.
The woman, who uses the pseudonym Emma Jackson, said her abusers threatened to “gang rape” her mother if she did not submit to their sexual abuse, which took place largely in an alley behind a branch of Boots in Rotherham town centre, in a park and in bushes near a museum.
Her family were so afraid they moved to Spain after complaining to the police, social services, their MP and the then home secretary, David Blunkett, the court was told.
The woman told jurors that Sageer Hussain – who is of British-Pakistani origin, along with all but one of the other men in the dock – first raped her behind Boots when she was 13 and later called her a “white slag” when she tried and failed to stop him.
She told police that the first and second time he raped her, between 1 January and 4 April 2003, he told her to scream so that his friends, waiting nearby, would know to come and watch. He was found guilty of four counts of rape and one of indecent assault.
After the convictions, the National Crime Agency said it was separately investigating more than 11,100 lines of inquiry relating to non-familial child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2003.
Thirty-eight people had been designated “suspects” with many more under investigation, according to the NCA, which is carrying out the independent investigation at the request of South Yorkshire police.
NCA staff have been talking to 133 alleged victims and survivors and have recorded 163 crimes. They have identified 17 distinct investigations under the overall inquiry.
Nine people have been arrested as part of the operation, codenamed Stovewood, with all suspects bailed until November and December, and one organised crime group has been mapped, identifying the nature and scale of its offending. Money laundering, other financial crime and drug-related offences have also been identified.
The operation began after the publication in August 2014 of the Jay report, which said at least 1,400 children in Rotherham had been sexually exploited over a 16-year period from 1997.
Jackson and the two other victims were in court as Wright jailed their abusers. They sobbed and wiped away tears as their victim impact statements were read to the court.
Their abusers showed no emotion as they were jailed. Sageer Hussain appeared to smirk as he was led away.
Wright said each of their victims were “groomed, coerced and intimidated”. Their abuse was “carefully planned”, she said, adding: “An abuser would build up their trust and it is a common feature of this case that abusers are often described as initially caring and loving but then turning to becoming controlling and domineering.
“Some victims were given alcohol and/or drugs and each of them was given attention. The power that you, the abusers, were then able to have over them meant that the girls distanced themselves from their parents or carers.”
Wright praised the dignity and bravery of the victims and their families.
In a statement read by police outside court, one of the victims urged others to report grooming: “I know grooming still goes on but I feel that the help is available now if you speak out. Groomers thrive in the silence of others. Speak out and someone will listen.”
She added: “If you see a child in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable please report it, [child sexual abuse] is everyone’s issue and we all play a part in stamping it out.”
DCI Martin Tate, senior investigating officer, said: “The rape and sexual abuse of children is completely abhorrent and this group have shown no remorse for their crimes, forcing the young women who came forward to report this awful abuse to relive traumatic experiences before the court.
“We are indebted to the victims, who have supported our investigation and have shown remarkable strength in attending court to give evidence.”
Three men have been jailed for their part in an inner-city sex ring involving the abuse, rape and trafficking of young girls.
Victims as young as 14 were subjected to sexual abuse that was “degrading, violent and horrible” in Bristol. Some of the girls were given drugs and alcohol and “pestered again and again” for sex by the men, who were mostly older teenagers.
Bristol crown court heard that the rapes became “routine” and the men regarded some of the victims, who cannot be named, as “cheap and easy”.
Three men – Sakariya Sheikh, 23, Mohammed Dahir, 24, and Abdirashid Abdulahi, 23 – were convicted of 14 charges relating to four girls.
Judge Peter Blair QC jailed Sheikh for 16 years, and Dahir and Abdulahi both for eight years, after a seven-week trial. “You have brought shame upon your families and upon yourselves,” the judge told them. “You are not worthy of very much further attention in this courtroom. My attention is focused upon the victims of your crimes.
“They were four children trying to find their way in life, some of them struggling with difficult issues at home. You used your older age, your personal freedom and your relative stronger power to manipulate and coerce them into becoming for you little more than objects to satisfy you sexually.”
The judge said the abuse had left the victims feeling “worthless”.
“Their pain goes on and so it will for you now,” he told the defendants. “They are at long last receiving some measure of justice from your convictions. Their very brave and difficult decision to give evidence against you has been vindicated and I pay tribute to them.”
Seven men went on trial accused of 46 charges. Three were acquitted after the jury failed to reach verdicts and another man was found not guilty of the two charges against him.
The trial, which came after an investigation codenamed Operation Button, was the third in a series of prosecutions of Somali men for child sexual exploitation and drug offences.
In two earlier trials in 2014, after an investigation codenamed Operation Brooke, 14 men were jailed for more than 100 years between them. Sheikh, Abdulahi and Dahir – were also found guilty in Operation Brooke.
During the latest trial, jurors heard that a 15-year-old girl was simultaneously raped by Sheikh and another man in March 2013. The majority of the offences happened between 2011 and 2012 against girls who had travelled to Bristol by train to meet the men.
Anna Vigars, prosecuting, said the victims “suffered sexual abuse, some of it violent, degrading and horrible, some of it less so”.
Speaking after the case, DS Lisa Jones, of Avon and Somerset police, said the offences had inflicted “long-term pain and torment” on the victims.
“These defendants befriended these vulnerable young people who were still at school, grooming and sexually exploiting them,” she said. “Their systematic abuse over a number of years slowly eroded their confidence and made them think these crimes were normal behaviour.”
In a statement issued through police, the Bristol Somali community said it was “deeply appalled” by the case. “Our deepest sympathy wholeheartedly goes out to the victims and their families who are undoubtedly experiencing extreme pain at the moment,” it said. “Our community, a Muslim and black minority ethnic community, in Bristol would like to underline that we sincerely condemn the nature of these crimes.”